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Letter to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Department of the Interior


Location: Washington, DC

Letter to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Department of the Interior

As Court Ordered Deadline Looms, Kerry Urges Endangered Species Act Listing for Polar Bear

Repeats Call for Drilling to Cease in Beaufort and Chukchi Seas Until Impact Study is Completed

Sen. John Kerry wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne today, asking that he adhere to this Thursday's Federal court-ordered deadline for listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. The original deadline for listing was January 9, 2008. The delay in listing has allowed the Administration to move forward with oil and gas lease sales in over 30 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, without any consideration of the impact of drilling on the resident polar bear population. Kerry introduced legislation earlier this year that would halt all exploration activity in the Beaufort and Chukcki Seas until we better understand the full impact of drilling on the polar bear and other imperiled species.

"We can't afford any more delay or deferral of ESA protection for our last remaining Polar Bears," said Senator Kerry. "The Administration can no longer refuse to implement protections for these threatened creatures while starting a new gold rush for big oil and gas companies, selling off the polar bears' critical habitat. This week the rubber hits the road."

Below is the text of Kerry's letter:

May 13, 2008

Secretary Dirk Kempthorne
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240

Dear Secretary Kempthorne,

As the legal deadline approaches this week to abide by the directive of the Federal courts and list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, I wanted to write and remind you why this listing is clearly warranted and essential to protecting this iconic species.

As you know, your decision on the polar bear listing was originally due on January 9, 2008. Despite the fact that the scientific facts clearly support listing, the US Fish and Wildlife Service inexplicably chose to delay the listing decision by one month.

As frustrating as the actual delay was, the Minerals Management Service's (MMS) February 6th decision to use that time to issue the first leases for oil and gas development in almost 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea - without any consideration of the impacts of that lease activity on the resident polar bear population - sent a disturbing signal around the world. It was an especially egregious decision given that MMS itself acknowledged in its Final Environmental Impact Statement on Lease Sale 193 that oil and gas development will harass and ultimately even kill polar bears. Already, massive amounts of seismic activity are being planned for this summer in both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

To add insult to injury, the initial one-month delay was followed by additional foot-dragging, which ultimately resulted in the need for the courts to step in and order a deadline of May 15th for a final decision from the agency.

Between one-sixth and one-fifth of the world's polar bears live on the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Last summer, government scientists predicted that, as a result of climate change, polar bears may disappear from the U.S. and its waters entirely by 2050 - and that estimate doesn't even take into account potential effects from new oil and gas activities.

Given the recent Administration actions, I am concerned that even this week - as the legal May 15th deadline looms - somehow the government will avoid taking action to protect this threatened species. I respectfully implore you to heed the warnings of the scientists, the order of the federal courts, and the will of hundreds of thousands of Americans who voiced their opinions during the comment period and list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

John F. Kerry

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